What to know about the transition from telehealth to therapy IRL
It may feel hard to believe that we entered the COVID-19 pandemic over three years ago. It seemed to happen overnight. Gone were the days of getting ready, timing a commute, and trying not to spill our coffees as we ran to the train. Our normally in-person society quickly shifted to a virtual world, attending meetings in our pajamas, maybe from our childhood bedrooms or our kitchen counters, with dogs barking and children playing in the background, all while trying to figure out how to navigate Zoom, some of us for the very first time.
Providers were faced with a major learning curve when we had to frantically make our in-person interventions virtual, though our creativity expanded the world of mental health into one that is more accessible, flexible, and in some ways more human, as we all experienced a community and global traumatic event together.
Although the world has now largely settled into a more recognizable routine, complete with commutes longer than those from our beds to our desks and back again and meetings with people we can actually see from the neck down, healthcare, and mental healthcare especially, continues to operate predominantly via telehealth. Telehealth has increased accessibility to providers and has allowed for therapy to reach clients near and far. The American Psychological Association (APA, 2021) reported a near 50% increase in adults ages 18-64 regularly attending therapy sessions. However, there remains a need and a desire for services to also be available in person, furthering the depth of the therapeutic relationship.
Nearly three years later, therapists are faced with the question of, “what now?” and as a client, you may be feeling the same way. Many therapists plan to maintain some availability for virtual therapy, some opting to no longer see clients in person for the time being. A survey distributed by the APA reported that 96% of providers were offering virtual therapy (2021). Still, many therapists cannot scratch the same itch with virtual models and report feeling eager to offer therapy in person once again, noting that the relationship can be significantly deepened and broadened in some otherwise stuck therapeutic alliances (Demelo, 2021).
Many clients have only ever experienced therapy online, so this could be a big shift, one that is both exciting and quite anxiety-provoking. As we make this transition back into the office, you may be wondering what to expect. What will the office look like? Will the sessions feel different? How tall is my therapist? We’ve gathered some tips from therapists to ease your worries and answer some of these questions before you make that first journey to your therapist’s office.
Ask your therapist what to expect.
Don’t shy away from talking about the environment with your therapist before you get there. Ask them what the room will look like. Will there be a chair or a couch? Is it cold or warm? Should I bring my own water? Anything that might come to mind is a good question if it will ease the experience of going to therapy in person.
Plan your commute.
Your commute to therapy won’t be as simple as moving from your couch to your desk, but it doesn’t have to be too difficult! Plan your commute ahead of time. Decide how you’ll get there (drive, walk, bike, train) and plan ahead for how long it might take. Try to give yourself 10 or so extra minutes in case there’s traffic or delays and to give yourself enough time to find the office and settle in. Maybe even scope out a nearby café to grab a treat before or after your session!
Trust your therapeutic relationship.
At the end of the day, it is your therapist’s job to ease this transition for you, just as they may have eased your transition into telehealth. You have the job of getting yourself to the office and showing up for your session. Your therapist can take it from there. Hopefully, you will have the time to process what it feels like to be in person, reflect on what the journey has been since your first Zoom therapy session, and continue the growth that began on the screen as it continues to expand off the screen. It will surely feel different, but the hope is that this will only add to your therapeutic journey as you continue to explore yourself in the virtual and real office.